Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reading Reflection 1

Hello S-LC staff and alumni!

I hope you are doing well and enjoying your summers. This blog post will be the first of a series of conversations about the S-LC Summer Reader 2009. Whenever I blog, I will try to present discussion questions in such a way that focuses on the service-learning subjects, rather than the particular readings. Please feel welcome to post any responses, comments or questions whether or not you have had time to study the relevant reading.
How would you teach “social justice"?
This week’s conversation is about social justice pedagogy. In his essay, Educating for Shalom, Nicholas Wolterstorff describes his vision of social justice and several methods he uses to impress this vision upon young people. Wolterstorff’s vision of social justice is founded on “Shalom”: a specific vision of human flourishing in “ethical community” in which justice and happiness exist in harmony. In support of this conception of social justice, Wolterstorff cites Walter Brueegemann’s Living Toward A Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom, his own book entitled Until Justice and Peace Embrace, and one of his essays entitled “Why Care about Justice”. There are many interesting and provoking ideas presented in Educating for Shalom, but the focus of this blog entry will be the strategies Wolterstorff outlines for teaching Shalom.
  1. ILLUMINATION: Make students aware of their current framework for understanding social justice issues. Challenge them to consider the ways their past experiences have shaped the way they perceive the world and critique the legitimacy of this view.
  2. DISCIPLINE: Take a highly behavioral approach using a punishment and reward system to educate young people about the value of Shalom. Wolterstorff says punishments and rewards may be physical/material or based on praise.
  3. MODELING: Essentially the best teachers are the ones who live in a way that authentically reflects their values.
  4. EMPATHY: Cultivate empathy in the students by confronting them “with the faces and voices of suffering – with images and voices of the night.” Photography, film, and other creative mediums can be powerful forms of documentation, capable of educating and “illuminating”. However, there are several important caveats to consider. First, although images can cause a healthy dissatisfaction and discomfort in the viewer, sometimes images can desensitize and paralyze the viewer. Second, the education of the viewer should never be bought at the expense of the subject’s integrity. I respect a teacher who wants to challenge their students with real images, but I respect even more a teacher who preserves the integrity of the individual in the photograph, film, etc. What I mean is, the individual in the photo should be respected; the suffering should not be objectified.
  5. EXPERIENCE: Wolterstorff concludes his essay by suggesting the possibility that teachers cannot teach social justice because students only truly acquire social justice as they experience their own suffering. I prefer this option to the other five because personal experience of suffering can create authentic feelings of empathy. Experiential learning is the most intense of all learning styles and in my opinion, offers the greatest opportunity for growth.
I’m very interested to hear thoughts and comments about any of Wolterstorff’s or my own ideas presented here or in the reading. Do you agree with Wolterstorff’s definition of “social justice”? Do you think social justice (or shalom) can be taught? Should it be taught? If social justice is to be taught, what strategies should a teacher use?

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